Marrying for money, it turns out, works.
A study by an Ohio State University researcher shows that a person who marries — and stays married — accumulates nearly twice as much personal wealth as a person who is single or divorced.
And for those who divorce, it’s a bit more expensive than giving up half of everything they own. They lose, on average, three-fourths of their personal net worth.
“Getting married for a few years and then getting divorced is clearly not the path to financial independence,” said Jay Zagorsky, whose study divided married couples’ assets so they could be compared with singles.
Zagorsky, a research scientist at OSU’s Center for Human Resource Research, tracked the wealth and marital status of 9,055 people from 1985 to 2000. Those people have been participating in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which has repeatedly interviewed them about various aspects of their lives since 1979.
The participants are now 41 to 49 years old, making them the youngest of the baby boomers.
Zagorsky cautioned that results could be different for older and younger Americans, who have faced different attitudes about marriage, divorce and living together without marriage.
Zagorsky’s study, which is published in the current issue of the Journal of Sociology, defines wealth as the total value of a person’s assets, such as real estate, stocks and bank accounts, minus liabilities, such as mortgages.
A big reason married people accumulate more wealth than others is simple economies of scale — one household is cheaper to maintain than two, Zagorsky said. Divorce reverses those benefits, he said.
“Divorce looks like one of the fastest ways to destroy your wealth,” Zagorsky said.
David Popenoe, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, said people become more economically productive after they marry.
“They work harder, they advance further in their job, they save more money, and maybe invest more wisely,” Popenoe said. “That’s because, one can speculate, they are now working for something larger than themselves. They are working for a family.”
Zagorsky showed that single people slowly accumulated wealth during the study, going from a median of $1,500 at the start to $10,900 in the 15th year.
Married people accumulated wealth much faster, accumulating 93 percent more than single or divorced people over the life of the study, Zagorsky said.
People who divorced started losing net worth four years before their divorces were final, Zagorsky said. That could be because they had separated before divorcing, forcing them to support two households, he said.
The study found that men fared better than women after divorce, holding about 2 1/2 times the wealth. However, in dollars, it added up to a difference of only $5,124.
“While men come out slightly ahead, divorce destroys wealth dramatically for both sexes,” Zagorsky wrote in his study.